“Play every game as if it was your last,” says every manager worth his weight in sunflower seeds. And for a handful of members, the 53rd Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game will be their last if they don’t win re-election later this year.
“This can’t be my last game. I still have at least a dozen hometown high school jerseys I need to wear,” joked Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell. After knocking off long-time Democratic Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark in California’s 15th District in 2012, Swalwell was vulnerable to a challenge from another aspiring Democrat.
Swalwell caught a break in the primary earlier this month, though, and now the 33-year-old, one-time soccer recruit at the University of Maryland is the prohibitive favorite in the fall in a very Democratic Bay Area district.
Other members aren’t quite as fortunate.
Illinois Republican Rep. Rodney Davis is in the middle of the trifecta of congressional danger. He fended off a well-funded primary challenger in March, but is now one of Democrats’ top general election takeover targets. Even more challenging is the fact that he must face Democrats’ star pitcher, Louisiana Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, in the quest for the coveted Roll Call trophy.
Even though Davis went 0-for-2 against Richmond last year, a re-election loss by the 44-year-old No. 3 hitter to former Madison County Judge Ann Callis in the 13th District would be a blow to the Republican squad.
“I might have to leave practice a little early for an event, but that happens regardless of whether you’re in a competitive race or not,” Davis explained. “Rand Paul is playing and practically running for president,” he said with a laugh, talking about Kentucky’s junior senator/outfielder.
Rep. Jack Kingston is giving up his Georgia House seat to run for Senate. “I probably need practice more than anyone out there,” Kingston said. “Fortunately, most of the guys know what I’m going through.” He finished second in the GOP primary a month ago, and faces businessman David Perdue in the runoff a month from now. If he wins the nomination, Kingston will face a competitive general election against Democrat Michelle Nunn.
“[The game] is a great diversion from the barbecues, phone calls, debates and forums,” Kingston said.
A handful of other members face re-election races of varying degrees of difficulty.
Tennessee Rep. Chuck Fleischmann is in the middle of a competitive primary with Weston Wamp, son of former Rep. Zach Wamp — a one-time shortstop of the Republican team and the 2013 inductee into the Roll Call Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame. Fleischmann defeated Weston Wamp in the 2012 primary, but they’ll face off again on Aug. 7.
GOP Rep. Steve Pearce represents a growing Hispanic population in New Mexico’s 2nd District. His opponent, former Eddy County Commissioner Roxanne “Rocky” Lara, raised more than $700,000 through the end of March and has been named to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue program, but Pearce is still favored to win at this point.
Rep. Bill Johnson is also favored to win his race with former Democratic state legislator Jennifer Garrison, but his Ohio district is competitive. For now, his biggest challenge might be Richmond.
“I’ve never had a chance to come to the plate against him,” Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to having that chance this year.” Johnson has been a part of the Republicans’ “fielding team” in the past, but he should get some at-bats this year when the GOP squad shifts its strategy away from equal playing time for all.
At least one member is playing in his first and likely last game. Louisiana Republican Vance McAllister was elected to Congress in a November special election, and is waffling on whether he’ll seek re-election after a scandal.
California Rep. David Valadao made his congressional baseball debut in 2013. He is not playing in this year’s game, but an aide said the GOP congressman’s tough re-election contest was not a deciding factor. His opponent, Democrat and former Debbie Stabenow chief of staff Amanda Renteria, played softball at Stanford University and could be a force in the annual Congressional Women’s Softball Game — and potentially the baseball game, if she wins in November.
On the Democratic side, it looks like manager Mike Doyle will have his winning roster largely intact for at least another three years. One of Doyle’s best players should also be one of his most vulnerable, but Republicans failed to recruit a top-tier challenger against Florida Rep. Patrick Murphy.
“Nothing in life is easy or guaranteed, except when Cedric Richmond is on the mound,” Murphy said, comparing baseball to running for re-election. “Campaigning is definitely more challenging, but the game is something I look forward to.” Murphy has proved to be a prolific fundraiser and he is one of a handful of Democrats endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Rep. Timothy H. Bishop could be vulnerable, depending on the outcome of the incredibly bitter Republican primary in New York’s 1st District. And Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz starts as the heavy favorite over Republican state Assemblyman Brian Nestande in California’s 36th District.
Iowa Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley is in a competitive race for the Senate, but he bowed out of this year’s game with an apparent shoulder injury.
For weeks, both teams have been battling weather and election calendars in order to practice. “I missed two weeks because of the primary,” Doyle said. He won with 84 percent and resisted the temptation to donate to Keystone State colleague Bill Shuster’s tea-party-fueled primary challenger. Shuster, usually a solid Republican hitter, won his primary with 53 percent.
Doyle has experienced the pain of losing good players to electoral defeat (Ohio Rep. John Boccieri in the 2010 wave, in particular), but is enjoying his talented roster and superstar players because it wasn’t always this way.
“I lived through the Steve Largent years,” Doyle said.
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